There are Worse Things to Leave Our Children than Debt

walkinginrainThe economic downturn, coupled with the changing of the guard in Washington, has led to increasing political polarization in economic views. America is more liberal than it has been for many years, and we’ve been voting that way. It is the belief of a majority of Americans that liberal economic policies are what our nation needs to survive. But there is far from a consensus about how we should go about recovering from this precipitous economic decline.

We are at a crossroads, where few would suggest that inaction is the most prudent course. Our children and subsequent generations are frequently dragged into this debate. Giving the appearance of the ultimate highest moral ground, conservatives argue that the worst thing we could possibly do in these times, is increase the Federal deficit.

On it’s face it is a compelling approach. No one wants to make things harder on the next generation. But are there things worse than debt that we could leave our children? Absolutely. Is the price of ongoing debt maintenance, at pennies on the dollar, really so significant that we should ignore the issues before us?  Should we endanger the health of our children, their future job prospects, or possibly even the survival of the human species, just to entertain a fantasy of fiscal responsibility?

Leaving our children and future generations with a burden of debt is a small price to pay compared with the what could result from political inaction or insufficient investment in the present. History has shown this to be true.

Worse than Debt:

Global Warming: Without dramatic changes in the types of fuels we use, our processes for producing electricity, and means of transportation, we will continue to increase the rate at which we are polluting the atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. An increase in debt may be necessary to create the infrastructure, incentives, and innovations required to make the technological improvements required worldwide to prevent rising ocean levels, drought, mass starvation, as well as uncertain climatic, biological, and agricultural changes.

Inadequate Education: The challenges we face today are pushing the limits of our science, technology, and ingenuity. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of responding to a changing world, is that in a democracy, the will to change must be the will of the people. But inadequate education leaves the electorate ill prepared for facing complex scientific, medical, or economic issues. In order to bring about enlightened policy, we need an enlightened electorate that has education and experiences to understand the reasons what changes and innovations are necessary.

We can reflect on how we might have dealt with current problems, if only we had been better educated in the past. Investments in education decades ago might have imporved the scientific knowledge that could have enabled swifter changes in energy policy to curtail global warming. Better knowledge of economics and finance might have enabled us to prevent the recent real estate collapse and derivatives improprieties. Better media awareness might have prevented the Bush administrations manipulation of the news and facts in the run up to the attack on Iraq. Better consumer knowledge might have made us less susceptible to manipulation by corporate advertising.

Undoubtedly, increasing our investment in education is the best national defense America could hope for, because it will prepare America for the uncertain challenges we will face in the years and decades to come.

Archaic Energy: Prior to the massive sequestration of Carbon Dioxide and production of Oxygen that was performed by plants in the Paleozoic, the surface of the Earth outside of the oceans was mostly uninhabitable by non-plants. Now humanity is attempting to reverse this process, by pumping up oil from the Carboniferous, burning it to release the CO2, and decreasing the habitability of the Earth’s surface. What a stupid way to power any kind of progress. Our number two energy option consists of smashing neutrons together to make highly radioactive juice that must be stored in vats FOREVER, with no permanent safe storage facility. There are other ways.

Insufficient Health Care: We have, in America, supposedly, the finest health care ‘system’ in the world. That is, if you own stock. Somehow, however, when something’s really wrong with you, you can choose to get treatment, and lose any and all assets you possess, or suffer. Health insurance is becoming a luxury item. Employer-based health care is dissolving. A system that is for-profit will always economize. In business, some things are acceptable losses. You or I might be one.

No Access to the Means of Production: A key aspect to America’s growth and development was the wholesale giveaway of America’s natural and economic resources to a privileged few. But the endowed wealthy have never had enough. Economic downturns have consistently resulted from mass redistribution from the many to the few. After all, if most people don’t have sufficient economic resources to expend on goods and services, the economy must slow while the wealthy stow the assets and collect capital gains, which result in minimal economic stimulus. Hard work and creativity are not always sufficient for balancing unbalanced systems of economic stratification. The real way to create a wealthy society is to enable wider access to the means of production, thereby enabling economic opportunities not just for those lucky enough to be from regal bloodlines, but for all Americans.

A Dangerous World: Foreign policy that alienates allies and creates enemies can only make the future more uncertain for our children. We cannot afford to make problems that they must solve. A compassionate and tolerant approach to world affairs that fosters peace and encourages cooperation will benefit the children of all nations.

Debt? A small price to pay.

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Refinancing Our Future, The Stimulus Package and Education

In today’s blog I discuss several thoughts related to the economic stimulus package, the arguments against it, and how this relates to the importance of funds to support education.

We can’t mortgage our future, we already did.

The debates over HR 1, the Economic Stimulus package have been fascinating. They are a reminder of why our nation became governed by two legislative bodies, and an even clearer reminder of why one party has ascended to dominate both. We hear a lot of talk from opponents of the stimulus package who threaten that we’re “mortgaging our futures, or mortgaging our childrens’ future” or “saddling future generations with debt” channeling Ronald Reagan’s ghost.

Well, I have some news for you, mortgaging of futures is nothing new. I was a victim of future mortgaging.

As a child growing up in the 80’s, innocently playing GI Joe, Atari, and Dungeons and Dragons, I had no idea that my future was being mortgaged without my consent. My future was mortgaged, to the tune of a trillion dollars for the massive military buildup, and or the construction of an Earth-threatening arsenal of nuclear weapons.

But then I had my own kids, who started their lives in the W. years, and I watched their futures get mortgaged to pay for the destruction of and the occupation of Iraq.

So, with the current stimulus package, we can’t mortgage the future of my or anybody’s kids. We have no equity. Fortunately, we can Refinance our future, and I do believe that’s what’s going on. Rates are low, the time is right.

EDIT: Shortly after I posted this, I discovered an article at the Heritage Foundation from 2005 that uses the Refinance metaphor for revamping Social Security- I hope you can see the irony in these laughable arguments.

You just think you have a job, but it isn’t real.

You see, I don’t have a real job. Neither do most of the people I know, according to GOP Chairman Michael Steele. That’s because government jobs AREN’T REAL.

The arguments against Keynesian economics reach new lows in the words of the new head of the Republican Party, who tries to assert the intellectual superiority of conservatives by spouting complete nonsense.

Here are a few highlights:

Steele spends an extensive time trying to explain how the government can’t create jobs, and how they aren’t real jobs, and temporary contracts and blah, blah, blah.

He discusses how small businesses “want to grow, become national, international…” Small businesses want that?

But perhaps even more enlightening is when Steele reveals that the economic downturn is only 18 months old, and that the last 8 years have not contributed to the current situation, which is very convenient, but authorities beg to differ- there are even books on the subject that more than two years old.

I just don’t understand how spending on special education is going to stimulate the economy!

Arguments of ignorance are common in floor speeches in the U.S. Congress, but especially in the Senate, where members frequently remind CSPAN viewers how out of touch they are with the little people. In this round of debates and follies, the Senate reminded America why funding bills begin in the House, by fulfilling their constitutional role of representing the interests of the elite.

Fortunately most of the Members of the House Appropriations Committee (even Republicans) understand the need to increase funding for IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), that’s why they’ve been continuing to gradually increase the fund for decades.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of other folks (especially Republicans opposed to the stimulus package) have no clue about how federal education funds work, so they similarly can’t understand how putting any money in these funds would have any stimulating effect. So here, I’ll try to explain IDEA in really simple terms:

1) Schools have to pay all the costs associated with providing for the needs of students with special needs.

2) IDEA is Federal Money that helps cover these costs. It goes out to all the schools in the Nation.

3) IDEA funding is nowhere near enough money to cover the extra costs associated with serving students with special needs.

4) Schools spend the money anyway, so they fund special education with their general funds.

5) In an economic downturn, the costs associated with serving special needs students will not fall, in fact, costs rise annually.

6) Putting lots of money into IDEA will free up lots of money for the schools to be able to cover costs and avoid layoffs to teachers, staff, etc. and to continue all of the purchasing they do that also stimulates the economy.

But are these real jobs? You’re damn right they are. In my town, and in many towns, the school district is the leading employer. Non-union folks often balk at the demands of union teachers for benefits and pay, but when it comes right down to it, the economies of many of our communities would be underwater without these stable teaching jobs in their midst.

Got Schools?

By the way, can we build and fix up some of these schools? In one debate a confused Republican claimed that the Federal government has never been in the business of building schools. He was promptly corrected- in many towns, the LAST time we built schools was during the New Deal, with Federal funds. Today’s Republicans would have fought the building of those schools too.